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Lifestyle Changes to Control Cholesterol

Diet, exercise, weight management, quitting smoking, stress management, and taking your medications right can help you control your cholesterol.Woman lap swimming in pool wearing goggles and swim cap.

Diet

Your health care provider will give you information on changes to your diet you may need to make, based on your situation. Your provider may recommend that you see a registered dietitian for help with diet changes. Changes may include:

  • Reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol in your meals

  • Reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your food, especially if you have high blood pressure

  • Eating more fresh vegetables and fruits

  • Eating lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, and legumes (beans and peas), and eating less red meat and processed meats

  • Using low-fat dairy products

  • Using vegetable and nut oils in limited amounts

  • Limiting how many sweets and processed foods like chips, cookies, and baked goods that you eat 

Exercise

Regular exercise is a good way to help your body control cholesterol. Regular exercise has many benefits. It can:

  • Raise your good cholesterol.

  • Help lower your bad cholesterol.

  • Let blood flow better through your body.

  • Give more oxygen to your muscles and tissues.

  • Help you manage your weight.

Your health care provider may recommend that you get more physical activity if you haven't been active. Depending on your situation, your provider may recommend that you get moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 40 minutes each day and for at least 3 to 4 days each week. A few examples of moderate to vigorous activity include:

  • Walking at a brisk pace, about 3 to 4 miles per hour

  • Jogging or running

  • Swimming or water aerobics

  • Hiking

  • Dancing

  • Martial arts

  • Tennis

  • Riding a bicycle or stationary bike

  • Dancing

Weight management

If you are overweight or obese, your health care provider will work with you to help you lose weight and lower your BMI (body mass index) to a normal or near-normal level. Making diet changes and getting more physical activity can help.  

Quitting Smoking

Smoking and other tobacco use can raise cholesterol and make it harder to control. Quitting is tough. But millions of people have given up tobacco for good. You can quit, too! Think about some of the reasons below to quit smoking. Do any of them make you think twice about your smoking habit?

Quit Smoking 

Stop smoking because it:

  • Keeps your cholesterol high, even if you make all the other changes you’re supposed to.

  • Damages your body, especially your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

  • Makes you more likely to have a heart attack (also known as acute myocardial infarction, or AMI), stroke, or cancer.

  • Stains your teeth and makes your skin, clothes, and breath smell bad.

  • Costs a lot of money.

Stress 

Learn stress-management techniques to help you deal with stress in your home and work life. 

Making the Most of Medications

Healthy eating and exercise are a good start to keeping your cholesterol down. But you may need some extra help from medication. If your doctor prescribes medication, be sure to take it exactly as directed. Remember:

  • Tell your doctor about all other medications you take, including vitamins and herbs.

  • Tell your doctor if you have any side effects after starting to take a medication. Examples of side effects to watch for include: muscle aches, weakness, blurred vision, rust-colored urine, yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice), or headache.

  • Don’t skip a dose or stop taking your medication because you feel better or because your cholesterol numbers go down. Never stop taking your medication unless your doctor has told you it’s OK.

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/7/2014
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